Many moms have learned about the concept of reverse psychology, and think it’s a great strategy. (Reverse psychology is when you tell your child to do the opposite of what you want them to do, knowing that he will act in opposition to what you said and end up doing what you actually want.) It seems like the magic solution – you get him to act the way you want, and he gets to think he’s in control and making the decisions in spite of what you say, so what could be bad?
Is there anything wrong with using reverse psychology? Personally, I think it’s manipulative. Instead of openly and honestly communicating what you want, you’re tricking your child into doing what you want. As he gets older it will become clear to him what you’re doing, saying one thing but meaning something else. There’s a lot of ambiguity in communicating like that. Is that the way you want him to learn to communicate?
Secondly, and this is a big one – who is the one making the decisions in your home? Do you want your child to think it’s him? I’m a strong advocate of giving children choices in areas of their lives that are negotiable, but at the same time, they need to know when a parent tells them to do something, the parent’s word is not negotiable, period. If the parent says it, they need to do it.
The parent needs to clearly be the authority figure in the home, but authority doesn’t come from harshness and rigidity, or from the need to gratify his own ego – it comes from loving his child enough to clearly communicate expectations and consistently follow through on those stated guidelines. It may be cute to see a three year old acting like the a little adult, and parents will laugh about how adorable it is at that age to be bossy or fresh. But the precedent that is being set is going to lead to a lot of misery for the child and parent, as she gets older and thinks she can tell everyone what to do.
I think using reverse psychology is appealing precisely because so many moms don’t know how to get their kids to listen in any other way. But remember – your child will sense your resolve (or lack of it) without you saying anything – it’s something that radiates from within. Be clear in your own mind about what you want to accomplish, and know that you are willing to follow through to help the child learn you mean what you say.
When it’s time for your child to do something, don’t try to trick them into thinking they are making the choices and doing what they want in spite of what you say. Tell them what you want, firmly and with love, and follow through.